So the verdict's in: Technology is eroding our brains. Or so the two most venerable bastions of print media would have us believe. Nick Carr's article in the Saturday Wall Street Journal, "Does the Internet Make You Dumber?" makes the case from a neurological standpoint, and a recently most-emailed New York Times article, "Your Brain on Computers," accompanied by a photo of a husband and wife absorbed in their iPads at the breakfast table, is upfront in its equation of technology with addictive drugs.
But my co-author Lauren Mechling and I like to believe otherwise. Or, at least, we believe that our love of gadgetry can be a good thing when it comes to reading. Because from where we're sitting, it looks like we've become a nation of people who read all the time, even at the breakfast table. And surely that can't be all bad, can it?
Rather than bemoan the loss of readers to the electronic world, we wanted to meet them there. With Slate's launch of our interactive online YA novel My Darklyng--a meta-vampire thriller about the perils of letting the wrong people get too close--we are attempting to prove not only that the Internet is here to stay (duh), but that reading is, too (double duh), and most importantly, that one can enhance the other.
With our growing attachment to the online universe comes a refined ability to keep tabs on several things at once, to watch stories unfold on parallel planes. Because we conceived of My Darklyng as an online novel, we adopted a 2.0 approach to the narrative from the outset and recruited real-live teenagers to "play" our characters on the Internet. Our eminently talented teenage actresses (with whom we kept in constant touch via texts, IMs, and the occasional geriatric email) have helped us create Facebook pages for the characters, as well as Twitter feeds, Wikipedia entries, YouTube videos, and so forth, all of which evolve in step with the story.
And these multimedia add-ons aren't mere window dressing: They are essential components of the story, providing clues to the mystery at the center of My Darklyng. We're hoping to reach readers who are a lot like us: readers who check email compulsively, who know you can judge a person by her Facebook wall photos, whose daily dramas tend to play out on the surface of the screen and who express themselves by hitting one key, then another. We're writing for the readers who will keep on reading even over the beep of their iPhones, who will press "Next," "Like," and "Retweet," over and over again.